Sheila Connolly

Sheila Connolly is Cork Person of the Month for May in recognition of the invaluable service she provides in the support and rehabilitation of people who have been to prison in her role as CEO of the Cork Alliance Centre.

Since she began working with the Cork Alliance Centre in 2003, Sheila has played an instrumental role in the development and provision of a range of services that support people who have been to prison to make a “fresh start” and bring change into their lives. The organisation strives to reduce offending and increase positive participation in family and community life amongst service users. The centre aims to support people move away from crime and its associated behaviours. The ultimate goal is that people live a crime-free life.

Services provided by Cork Alliance Centre include resettlement support & advice; support in desisting from crime; prison in-reach support; harm reduction and addiction recovery support; education, training & employment support; and psychotherapy support. The Centre also provides support, practical advice, and encouragement to employers who are interested in hiring people with convictions, which can act as both a sound business decision and a tangible contribution to the community.

James Leonard, a past service user of the Cork Alliance Centre, has commended Sheila’s contribution to the lives of both people who have been to prison and those around them in Cork: “Over the past 25 years Sheila has helped thousands of Cork men and women rebuild their lives following a spell in prison. She has been key in breaking family cycles of offending and also reducing crime, which has in turn led to less victims of crime and a safer society for all”.

“She has been instrumental in my life, my wife’s life, my friends’ lives, and the lives of thousands across Cork City and County”, he said.

Sheila has a vast portfolio of work in volunteering and active citizenship to complement her role with the Cork Alliance Centre. In August 2023, Sheila made an expert presentation to the Citizens Assembly on Drugs Use, using her immense knowledge and experience to contribute to this important forum. She did this alongside past-Cork Alliance Centre service users who successfully made the transition to the workforce and became her colleagues – a testament to the effectiveness of the Centre’s services.

Sheila also spent over a decade volunteering with St. Vincent de Paul to alleviate poverty; over seven years on the board of Cork’s Sexual Health Centre; and four years as an Advisory Group Member for Men Overcoming Violence (MOVE) Ireland, an organisation which addresses domestic violence against women and children. Sheila has also volunteered abroad, having worked for Concern following the Rwandan Genocide and also as an aid worker in East Africa and Laos.

On presenting Sheila with her Cork Person of the Month Award, Awards Organiser Manus O’Callaghan said: “Sheila’s work with the Cork Alliance Centre has positively impacted countless lives in Cork, providing ex-offenders with invaluable guidance and tools to allow them to rebuild their lives after spending time in prison.

“By exemplifying everything that is good about the Cork community Sheila is most deserving of a Cork Person of the Month award”, he said.

Sheila’s name will now go forward alongside the other monthly winners for possible selection as Cork Person of the Year at the annual Gala Awards Lunch, to be held in January, 2025.